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Embracing Failure as Part of God's Plan

by Rev. Mary Harmison, Academic Director for SEU Ohio

Jesus said to his Father, "Here I am, I have come to do your will” (Hebrews 10: 9). As followers of Christ, we are called to follow in Jesus’s footsteps—to take up our cross and follow him—doing God’s will. Jesus taught his followers to pray to the Father, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven..." (Matthew 6: 10, emphasis mine).

But how do we know what God's will is? Even though God was leading the apostle Paul, Paul admitted that he did not know all of God's will all the time (Acts 18: 21). He had a general idea of what God wanted him to do in his missionary journeys, but often he relied on his own decision-making skills to accomplish what God called him to do. You and I must do the same. Did Paul make missteps? Yes. The Holy Spirit occasionally redirected Paul's travel plans. (See Acts 16: 6-10.)

James writes, "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (James 1: 5). To discern God's will, we start with the Bible for an understanding of God's plan for humanity, God's character, and the development of our moral compass. Then we must pray and use discernment to follow the calling God has given to us and to choose our individual path.

At Southeastern University, we believe that God uniquely designs and gifts each person for a specific purpose. In addition to knowing God intimately, God has a specific calling for you, however, He probably won’t reveal all of it to you at once. He might give you a general

understanding of that call, and then He expects you to prepare for your call. So you prepare as best as you know how: by obtaining an education, by practicing spiritual disciplines, by growing in good character, by developing skills, by gaining experience in a variety of job settings, and by walking through the doors God opens for you.

But what if I told you, you also prepare by failing? Oof. Coming from an academic director, that may sound tough. But it’s true. We do not grow by always doing everything perfectly the first time. In fact, getting it perfect every time is an unrealistic expectation, and if you have that expectation for yourself, the best thing you can do is let it go. We grow when we embrace failure and learn from it, considering failure an acceptable outcome if we did our best and if we learn from the experience.

Is failure painful? Yes, it is, so don't waste it. You either learn from failure, or you are likely to repeat the pain. Consider the toddler learning to walk. The tike learns balance by stepping out and trying something new, falling, and pulling back up to do it better the next time. The wise author of Proverbs encourages us "...for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again..." (24: 6). If we never get anything wrong, it means we are not stretching ourselves to try new and difficult things. It may be a hard thing for our pride to swallow, but failure is part of learning. It is a part of God’s plan for all of us. It is expected.

Like many people, you may think that a decision that leads to failure means you missed God's will. What it actually may mean is that you are willing to take risks in obedience to God and in pursuit of the calling God has placed on your life, and that is a good thing. Humility is found in knowing that in spite of our best efforts, we may fail at times, and especially if we are not completely relying on God's guidance, help, and strength.

God calls us, and paradoxically, He does not expect us to be perfect. He knows we will fail sometimes. And God still wants us to partner with him in his kingdom work. He is willing to take the risk that we may mess things up a bit.

A few words of advice to the perfectionists among us who are pursuing God's call…

  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations for yourself that you will never fail and that every decision you make in life must be the "right" one. The final destination is important, not the route you choose to get there.

  • Worship leader and author Rory Noland says perfection should be spelled “perfiction” because no one does everything perfectly all the time.[1] If you make a mistake, it simply proves you are a card-carrying member of the human race.

  • Make it your goal to pursue excellence, not perfection.

  • Always savor the positive and don't blow the negative out of proportion.

Finally, know that if you did your best, God is pleased with you even if you made a misstep and think you failed. God does not call you to be perfect; He calls you to be obedient, to learn from failure, and to trust in him, not in yourself. Keep chasing his will. The final outcomes are up to God.

[1] The Heart of the Artist: A Character Building Guide for You and Your Ministry Team (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 127.

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